WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Sunday urged the Taliban to release hostage Mark Frerichs immediately. On Monday, the man who grew up in Lombardy has been held captive in Afghanistan for two years.
“The Taliban must release Mark immediately before they can expect their legitimacy efforts to be examined. This is non-negotiable,” Biden said in a statement, without detailing how the president plans to enforce his request.
Frerichs’ release was never made a priority as the Trump and Biden administrations negotiated an end to our nation’s longest war, with the final withdrawal of US troops occurring in late August.
Frerich’s younger sister Charlene Cakora, who lives in Lombard, has been campaigning for her brother’s freedom because she fears he will be forgotten.
Cakora said in a statement, “My family is grateful for President Biden’s statement. This strong acknowledgment by the Taliban of Mark’s two-year imprisonment is part of what we have asked the government to do since it took office. But what we really want is to have Mark at home. We know the President has opportunities to make that happen and we hope Mark’s safe return becomes a priority for him personally.”
Frerichs, 59, graduated from Glenbard East High School in 1980 and served in the Navy for six years, where he trained as a diver. After Nav, he worked as a general contractor, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. He lived there for about 10 years and was completing work on a municipal water project when he was lured into a trap in Kabul and kidnapped on January 31, 2020.
Cakora begged Biden to release her brother in a comment published in the Washington Post last week, with the caption, “President Biden, please bring home my brother, the last American held hostage in Afghanistan.”
She wrote: “When I tell people that there is still one American hostage in Afghanistan, half respond with surprise, while the other half think there are hundreds. In fact, there is only one known American hostage: my brother, Mark Frerichs.”
Cakora is pushing for Freirichs to be swapped for Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug dealer who has been in US custody for 16 years, a man she says the Taliban want.
On Sunday, Biden said in a statement that Frerichs “did nothing wrong. And yet the Taliban have been holding him captive for two years.
“Mark is from Illinois. A son. A brother. And his family has now endured two agonizing years — praying for his safety, wondering where and how he is, and longing for his return.
“Threatening the safety of Americans or innocent civilians is always unacceptable, and hostage-taking is an act of particular cruelty and cowardice. The Taliban must release Mark immediately before they can expect their attempts at legitimacy to be examined. That is non-negotiable.”
“To Mark, and to all Americans who are being held hostage and wrongly detained abroad, and to all of their families and friends who are enduring the nightmare of their absence, rest assured that my administration will work steadfastly until every American… Wrongfully accused of her will come home,” Biden said in the statement.
The president’s statement marks his first detailed remarks on Frerichs and did not signal what diplomatic action, if any, the government is considering.
Biden made a small mention of Frerichs in a July 8 speech on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, when he said, “We will continue to work for the release of imprisoned Americans, including Mark — sorry — Frerichs — I want that.” pronounce names correctly; I made a mistake – I made a mistake – so that he could be safely returned to his family.”
Cakora told the Chicago Sun-Times last year, “The war won’t be over until my brother gets home.”